Placemaking Spotlight: New Paltz, New York

The university town sustains its beautiful landscapes and unique character

Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Photo by James Robertson, courtesy of Flickr
Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Photo by James Robertson, courtesy of Flickr.

Located on the southeastern tip of Ulster County, New York, lies a quaint university town called New Paltz, with a small population of just over 7,000 people. Although mostly known for its vibrant SUNY New Paltz student population, residents of all ages appreciate the ample activities available like hiking, rock-climbing, biking, and especially sightseeing over the Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park Preserve, and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. With its distinct beauty, an abundance of natural resources, and location close to New York City and other major population centers, New Paltz is a magnificent example of a beautiful and lively historic town that embraces strong placemaking principles.

New Paltz’s origins heavily impact the town till this day, with historic houses on the iconic Huguenot Street being one of its main attractions. The town was founded in 1677 by a group of 12 French Huguenots who purchased roughly 40,000 acres of land on the Wallkill River region from the Esopus Indians. They renamed this region the “New Paltz Patent” and built stone houses that exist today. The Huguenot Historical Society maintains these homes with many of the original furnishings, tools, and machinery. The historical society has also reconstructed a 1717 French Church and operates a museum that examines the significant impacts of the Huguenots in New Paltz.

Mohonk Preserve. Photo by Tom Weiner, courtesy of Flicker.
Mohonk Preserve. Photo by Tom Weiner, courtesy of Flickr.

The Historic Preservation Commission of New Paltz continually works to maintain the status of historic landmarks and districts. In addition to the 300 years of history that evolved from the French Huguenots, New Paltz also acknowledges the indigenous Native Americans who once lived on these lands, particularly the Munsee Lenape people.

Today, New Paltz boasts an economy built on three major industries: educational services, shopping, and hospitality. Considering that SUNY New Paltz’s origins as a teacher-training school, it’s no surprise that many residents take up education as a career path.

To fuel its important hospitality industry, the town has had an eye on development and investment opportunities for a long time. Tim Rogers, the village of New Paltz mayor, states, “We’re a very important host community that attracts visitors from the New York City metropolitan area… we’re probably very important to New York State and Ulster County as far as sales tax generation.”

Mohonk Mountain House. Photo by Richard Johnson, courtesy of Flickr.

Indeed, New Paltz is a strong contender for upstate New York tourism dollars, offering some of the best views of the Hudson Valley, along with easy access to hiking, biking, kayaking, snowboarding, and other outdoor sports. Sports such as golf, baseball, martial arts, swimming, and other college athletic events provided by SUNY New Paltz are another main attraction. The college also provides a rich cultural backdrop for art, music, and theater performances. The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, the Unison Arts Center, and the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum are prime examples of the town’s artistic values on display. The Shadowland and Denizen Theaters beckon with inviting escapes into nights of dramatic or comedic play, while Historic Huguenot Street offers a glimpse into the rich history of the village.

New Paltz’s economy is heavily reliant on local and sustainable products and businesses, which is what makes this town so culturally unique. A noteworthy boon to the town’s economy comes in the form of its shopping and dining venues, including hotspots where visitors and residents can sample local cuisine and shop for local finds. Wine lovers revel in the enticing varietals made along the Shawangunk Trail, where the first French settlers introduced their fine art of wine-making. Unique retail options abound, particularly at the Water Street Market. For overnight guests, the village offers many places to stay, ranging from cozy bed and breakfasts to rustic campgrounds.

New Paltz is committed to sustaining the placemaking features that set it apart, especially when it concerns the environment. Not only are town officials committed to renovating their downtown, but they are extremely devoted to preserving their historic routes and environmental beauty, with roughly 15 committees dedicated to preserving the natural resources and scenic beauty of New Paltz. The Climate Smart Communities Task Force, for example, aims to protect the beautiful mountains and trails by implementing cleaner, alternative energy sources. The group aspires to prevent flooding to create safer spaces for residents and to reduce the overall climate vulnerability the town faces. With other committees such as the Environmental Conservation Board and even the Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee, New Paltz shows to be an efficient example of placemaking excellence where focus sustainability charts the course for the future.